U.S. leads Walker Cup, but it's not over yet

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 8, 2013, 12:45 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Blink, and you might have missed how the Americans positioned themselves to win this 44th Walker Cup.

A crucial half point.

A lunch of turbo-boosters.  

A bounce-back mentality.

And before you knew it, the Americans reeled off six straight wins Saturday en route to their best singles performance since the new format was instituted in 1995. As a result, the U.S. took a commanding 8-4 lead over Team GB&I as it attempts to win the Walker Cup for the fourth time in the last five matches.

Game over? Well, recent Walker Cup history suggests as much – the last three teams that led after Day 1 have gone on to win.

But the tidal wave of momentum that just drowned Team GB&I could very well switch directions Sunday … or at least that’s what U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve was telling his 10 players as darkness fell over National Golf Links.

“To me, the match is even,” Holtgrieve said. “It’s match play. This thing is not nearly over.”

It just may seem that way. The Americans, with eight different players contributing at least a half point, have jumped out to their biggest Day 1 lead since 1997.

“Eight to four is not an insurmountable lead,” GB&I captain Nigel Edwards said. “We’re good at foursomes. We’re good players. We’re good at singles. So game on tomorrow.”

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Good news, because it could very easily turn into a Sunday snoozer at National. The Americans need only 5 1/2 of the remaining 14 points to reach the 13 1/2 needed to win back the cup.

It was a fascinating few hours Saturday, especially since GB&I appeared in great shape for much of the morning. It led all four foursomes matches at one point on the back nine, only to settle for a 2 1/2 to 1 1/2 lead heading into lunch.

The turning point came as the opening foursomes match reached 18. The U.S. duo of Cory Whitsett and Bobby Wyatt combined to make six bogeys in the alternate-shot format and never led, but they eked out a half point after GB&I’s Max Orrin rushed his 35-foot birdie putt 12 feet past, and Nathan Kimsey couldn’t make the comebacker.

“It feels like you’re stealing something,” Whitsett said afterward.

Despite trailing after the opening session for just the second time since 2003, the Americans were actually “pretty pleased” to be down by only a point heading into the afternoon.

“No one hit the panic button,” Michael Weaver said. “No one felt like we played too poorly.”

That much was clear as the Americans rushed out of the gates in the afternoon.

Bobby Wyatt was 2 down after six holes but turned it into a 2-up victory over Neil Raymond. Max Homa made eagle on the drivable second hole en route to smoking Max Orrin, 5 and 3. Weaver downed GB&I’s best player, U.S. Amateur winner Matt Fitzpatrick, with wins on Nos. 14, 15 and 17.

At one point, the U.S. led in seven of the eight singles matches. Even the lifeguards at Hampton Bay were hanging red flags.

“It was important to see some red,” Homa said. “Seeing things going the wrong way, it’s hard to pull it back sometimes. We wanted to set the tone early.”

“It’s a pretty sneaky thing,” Justin Thomas said of the momentum shifts. “It definitely doesn’t hurt looking up there and seeing all our guys get it done.”

Nothing epitomized the GB&I’s sour afternoon quite like Thomas’ match against Kimsey.

All square coming down 18, both players left their second shots on the par 5 in a similar spot left of the green. Kimsey played a brilliant pitch to 4 feet, while Thomas’ shot didn’t carry far enough and rolled all the way back to his feet.

Thomas’ fourth shot caught a piece of the hole but didn’t drop. And with a chance to secure a crucial full point for the visitors, Kimsey instead blocked his 4-footer and ended up halving the match.

“These players don’t become bad in one afternoon,” Edwards said. “They’ll be suitably prepared in the morning.”

“It’s just match play,” said Gavin Moynihan, the only GB&I player to win his singles match. “We’re all good players. Anyone can beat anyone on a given day.”

To make this Walker Cup competitive, Team GB&I better hope that theory applies Sunday.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.